The treasure trove of unique geology and archeology found in Petrified Forest National Park has just grown by the addition of some 26,000 acres to the park. The recent purchase of a privately-owned ranch within the park's authorized boundaries expands the protected area by about twenty-five percent.
Announcement of the purchase was made earlier this week by The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service. The non-profit group played a key role in the acquisition by securing a purchase option for the tract until the NPS could obtain funding to complete the deal.
The newly-acquired land was previously owned and managed as ranchland by the Hatch Family Partnership. Located south of Interstate 40 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line, the Hatch tracts will connect lands managed by the State of Arizona and National Park Service, preserving a large portion of the property inside the acquisition boundary and expanding the Park ownership by nearly 25 percent.
“This is an important milestone in the National Park Service’s long effort to protect the rich natural and cultural landscape in and around Petrified Forest National Park," said Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service.
"By acquiring a purchase option two years ago, our partners at The Conservation Fund bridged the gap so that we could work with Congress for the funds to buy this significant acreage for the American people," Jarvis continued. "On their behalf, we thank The Fund. This extension of Petrified Forest’s boundaries will increase our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Arizona's Painted Desert environment and its archeological and fossil wonders.”
Scientists and archeologists are excited about what they may find on the new property.
"The potential for notable paleontological discoveries on the new property far surpasses much of what is in the existing park boundaries,” said park Paleontologist Bill Parker. "Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin have had success in the past finding fossils of animals and plants on this property. What we learn from these fossil deposits may dramatically increase our knowledge of life during the Triassic Period in Earth's history."
Park Archaeologist Bill Reitze stated: "Preliminary surveys of the new property have shown potential for a number of archaeological sites including large, early basketmaker villages and phenomenal petroglyph sites. Acquisition of this land may significantly enhance our knowledge of early peoples of the area."
Government efforts to protect some of the unique features in the northern Arizona desert from commercial exploitation, illegal collecting and vandalism began over a century ago. in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt used his authority provided by the Antiquities Act to establish Petrified Forest National Monument to protect the area’s mineralized trees, fossils and archeological resources.
In 1962, Congress designated the area as a National Park. The Arizona Congressional delegation championed the passage of boundary expansion legislation in 2004 authorizing the potential expansion of the park from 93,353 acres to 218,533 acres.
Over the last several years, Congress approved the funds needed for this significant acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal land protection program that receives significant revenue from the development of federally-owned ffshore oil and gas rights. An NPS spokesman noted that "no taxpayer dollars are used to support the fund, which has been protecting forests, natural resources, state and local parks and recreation areas since 1965."
“This is a significant step in preserving the unique and prehistoric resources inside the Petrified Forest National Park,” said Senator John McCain. “More work remains to be done and we will continue to look for achievable ways to protect the Park for the enjoyment and educational value of future generations of Americans.”
“More than 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt conserved the Petrified Forest as one of America’s first national monuments to protect its resources from vandalism and theft,” said Mike Ford, Southwest Director for The Conservation Fund. “Today, after more than 10 years of hard work by the National Park Service, the Fund, the Hatch family, Arizona’s Congressional delegation and many partners, we have preserved some of the world’s great fossil and archeological treasures for generations to come.”
“Congratulations to everyone whose hard work led to this landmark acquisition,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “After so many years it is a relief and joy to celebrate this major step toward completing the promise of the 2004 park boundary expansion. As for the future, we hope the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be used soon to purchase the other equally significant private lands within Petrified Forest National Park.”